Pandemic leads to ventilation upgrades and HVAC construction boom


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Mar 09, 2022  •  46 minutes ago  •  2 minute read  •  Join the conversation Dave Holek, president of the Mechanical Contractor’s Association of Windsor, is pictured on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

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Mechanical contractors in Windsor and London saw record workloads in 2021 after COVID-19 sparked concerns about air quality and led to widespread upgrades of ventilation systems across virtually every sector.

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The Mechanical Contractors Association of Windsor said the trend will continue through 2022, along with an increasing shortage of skilled trades people in Southern Ontario.

“We’re looking at a total increase in activity in residential, commercial, institutional and industrial sectors,” said association president David Holek. “We’re getting it from every direction, all of sudden. Some of it has had to do with COVID and it will continue probably for another year or so. Everybody’s got more concerned about the air we breathe every day inside of buildings, so there’s been an uptick in work for improvement in air quality inside buildings.”

We haven’t really seen all four sectors this busy in many years

Before the pandemic, about 10 per cent of the air circulated by Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems in institutional buildings came from outside, according to the contractors association.

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Systems are now being upgraded to increase outdoor air to 20 per cent or more, and in some cases up to 100 per cent.

Dave Holek, president of the Mechanical Contractor’s Association of Windsor, is pictured on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Dave Holek, president of the Mechanical Contractor’s Association of Windsor, is pictured on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

The Mechanical Contractors Association of Windsor saw a 15 per cent increase in work for members doing HVAC upgrades in schools, universities, medical offices and other buildings in 2021. Holek said that’s an increase of about 45,000 man-hours. Another 15 per cent increase is forecasted for 2022.

The Mechanical Contractors Association of London also saw a 15 per cent increase in HVAC-related work last year with the same trend projected for 2022. About 80 per cent of total hours for members of the London association in 2021 were related to HVAC.

“Creating safe and healthy work environments has always been a big part of union culture and the work we do for our clients everyday,” said Jack Parker, president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of London. “It’s rewarding to be part of public health efforts to improve the health and safety of our most vital buildings and workplaces during a critical time.”

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The increasing calls for HVAC upgrades come on top of an already high demand for skilled trades in sectors across Southern Ontario including food manufacturers, universities, hospitals, automotive and industrial facilities.

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The association said notable projects underway include work at Highbury Canco and the Gordie Howe International Bridge, along with Maple Leaf Foods and Toyota farther down Highway 401.

“Usually there are cycles that happen in our industry, like where the municipality will do some infrastructure work, which then will drive more residential units because there’s more capacity,” said Holek. “There always seems to be a cycle. But now everything is happening at the same time. It’s schools, it’s industrial work, commercial work, residential. We haven’t really seen all four sectors this busy in many years.”

The work, while welcome, has created a shortage of steam fitters, plumbers, pipe fitters and pipe welders along with many apprentices.

“Right now, they’re in demand,” said Holek. “And we’ll see that demand probably for the next five years. There is definitely a need. The studies out there are saying 2023 is probably going to be the worst year, and other years are going to be above the normal level of demand for skilled trades.”

twilhelm@postmedia.com

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